A Paddle in the Water

When my project began, I had a goal, this was my destination.


Launch Day, May 5, 2017 Jordanelle Reservoir

My journey began inside two cardboard boxes.


Two boxes containing everything you need to make a kayak!

One short sentence precedes each picture, I am sure you have already manipulated them into the overused phrase ‘the journey is the destination’. Too many foot miles in an abundance of settings, too many paths taken as I wandered through life have convinced me of the wisdom found in that simple, common phrase. Those thoughts, however, have moved into my past, moved there when I began building my boat. If building was the journey, the destination was the kayak. As much as I enjoyed building my boat, this project was always about the destination.

I have a little experience, in 2008 I built a cedar strip canoe. I was an apprentice on the project, guided at every step by my close friend, Clark; pushed into the background when work demanded skill. None of the above should be taken to mean I did not sweat, that I did not pour all my energy into the construction. My life had just not given me the knowledge necessary to tackle such a project on my own, but I was there for all of it, working and absorbing.


Halfway through my canoe build, every cedar strip was glued in place

As much as I love my canoe, my paddling passion is kayaks. Kayaks are personal, kayaks sit low, kayaks are not mere participants in an experience they flow into and become the experience. A double-bladed paddle cannot exist in civilization, its use begins a transition.

Events shape direction. I retired, visited friends and examined their craftsmanship, the beautiful kayaks they had built. I admired the clean lines of their boats and thought about knowledge gleaned during my canoe apprenticeship. I ordered a new destination, I ordered a kayak kit. That order put my paddle in the water, I began to move forward.

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An early stage in my kayak project

Working on my own as much as each task allowed, I still leaned on Clark’s knowledge when necessary and gleaned advice from a builders’ forum when needed, I made steady progress. I gained a healthy understanding of a woodworker’s half-truth ‘woodworking is figuring out how to correct your mistakes’. If that is an accurate definition then by sheer number of mistakes I have moved into the realm of expert woodworker. Every phase of construction combined frustration with satisfaction, I made many errors, but I kept stepping closer to my destination. Cosmetic mistakes developed meaning, they became proof that the boat was mine, they were my signature, they made my kayak unique. Nothing could detract from a build-developed pride.


Reading combined with YouTube taught me how to properly use a wood plane

Days, weeks and months passed. I measured my progress in hours, declaring my kayak water-ready after 321 hours. 321 hours of failing to reach perfection yet seeing nothing but perfection in my finished boat. By any definition, it was my kayak.


Reaching my destination, I reached a realization—I had been too focused. My destination was nothing more than a transition point, another boot striking the trail, another step in life. There is only one destination, I intend to reach mine while moving forward, moving forward with the help of my double-bladed paddle.


My double-bladed paddle moving me into my future

8 thoughts on “A Paddle in the Water

  1. What a beautiful kayak! I took out a canoe this past weekend and I must admit that the kayak is more to my liking. How many times during the project did you consider that for a small price you could have simply purchased a kayak and been on the water- not trying to get the next piece of wood to conform to the necessary shape? But as you are fully aware, the satisfaction of a project well-planned and well-executed is like no other. If you are like me, every time you see or use that table or chair or kayak, you know the deep satisfaction of a job well done. What a pleasure to read about your projects, travels and thoughts. Thank you for sharing this blog with me. And congratulations on the completion of this exceptional project.


    1. Terry, I have a plastic kayak that has spent time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton as well as time in Utah’s lakes. This was something I wanted to do–I did question my sanity when I was fiberglassing at 3:30 in the morning but never questioned finishing the project. As you mentioned the satisfaction is there, I built the canoe in 2008 and still touch it when I walk by. The kayak will see more water time than the canoe, it will get scratched and, like the imperfections in the build, the scratches will all have meaning (and they can be touched up).


  2. Congratulations Mike! Wonderful story! Wonderful journey! We’re delighted for you…and excited to hear the next chapter.


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